Sunday, July 27, 2014


Jamelle Bouie doesn't think the poor need the "life coaches" who'd oversee their access to social services under the Paul Ryan poverty plan. I agree with Bouie that what the poor need instead is access to more jobs that pay a living wage.

But Bouie's reform-conservative Slate colleague, Reihan Salam, likes the Ryan plan. He writes:
The theory behind having smart, dedicated caseworkers working on behalf of people who are down on their luck is that spending a bit more time and money now could help save time and money later.
Byond the obvious problem with this -- when in recent years have elected Republicans ever agreed to spend more money now on any program in order to spend less money later? -- there's the question of those "smart, dedicated caseworkers." I agree with New York magazine's Annie Lowrey: requiring the poor to sit down with these caseworkers and work out specific benchmarks before they can receive aid is (to use her word) paternalistic. In practice, though, it would be cut-rate paternalism, because we'd never bother to ensure that we had "smart, dedicated" paternalists as caseworkers.

As Lowrey notes, under the Ryan plan, these caseworkers would be employed by several different types of organizations:
Ryan proposes asking poor families to work with a single "provider" -- a government agency or approved nonprofit or for-profit group -- to build and enact a life plan, in exchange for cash assistance.
So some of these caseworkers will work for the government, others for nonprofits, still others for profit-making corporations. How's that going to work out?

Well, we can imagine what's going to happen in government programs: states aren't going to provide enough money to hire the number of caseworkers they'll need, because that's what always happens with the budgeting of government social service agencies. Each caseworker will have a huge caseload. Oh, and in and all but the bluest parts of the country, it'll be determined that they can't possibly be union workers with collective bargaining rights, so we won't pay enough to hire and retain caseworkers who are truly qualified and experienced.

Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones has looked at Jason DeParle's book about a welfare-to-work program in Milwaukee that fell far short of its goal; she tells us this:
DeParle describes caseworkers in the Wisconsin welfare-to-work agencies as utterly overwhelmed, with caseloads double what they should have been because no one wanted to invest the money to hire the number of qualified people it would take to do the job right.
That' what we're going to get at the public-sectot level.

At the for-profit companies, do you think there's going to be any more effort to pay well enough to retain good caseworkers? You'd be a fool to expect that -- everything's going to bottom-line oriented. I wouldn't be surprised if we end up with some caseworker jobs outsourced to overseas call centers, with scripted admonitions coming from life coaches who've never even been to America.

There might be some hope in the nonprofit sector -- maybe some underpaid but tireless inner-city champions of the poor, or some empathetic nuns -- but I imagine this is just going be a jobs program for fringy fundy opportunists, especially the kinds of people who devise charter school curricula in right-leaning states. We're going to get a lot of caseworkers demanding attendance at extremely conservative and doctrinally bizarre churches in return for signoffs on aid, as we've seen in recent years with faith-baed rehabilitation programs in prisons. Republican governors will defend those religious-right nonprofits to the death.

So it doesn't matter whether the Ryan plan could work the way it's being described, because it would never be implemented that way.

(Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.)


Steve J. said...

we'd never bother to ensure that we had "smart, dedicated" paternalists as caseworkers.

Arizona's child protective services is a great example of bad caseworkers & management.

Ken_L said...

Conservatives are all against Big Government except when they're not, apparently.

Ryan is running the same hackneyed "blame the poor for their own condition" line that he's been flogging all year. Does he believe this kind of micro-management will magically change the American economy so that poverty is eliminated? It's all smoke and mirrors. Given the winners and losers nature of capitalism, any success in improving one person's circumstances will just come at the expense of someone else. said...

This is about giving the something to the MSM so they can say "the thoughtful and serious Paul Ryan" and to allow "moderate" Republican White voters who are uncomfortable with the full-throated hatred of poor people and minorities in the Republican base somewhat more comfortable when voting Republican.

Since a great deal of the "plan" surrounds this "life" contract, it demonstrates the passion of the right to reassert hierarchy: employers over workers; whites over minorities; and men over women. It is hard to imagine a more reactionary proposal. I really appreciate Corey Robin for this insight.

Never Ben Better said...

And spare a moment of pity for the likely "smart, dedicated" life coaches who'll actually be assigned this role: lots and lots of social workers fresh out of college, naive, educated academically but unlearned in the nitty-gritty realities of the lives of their clients, trying desperately to help but woefully unprepared for their roles, even without the staggering caseloads they'll have thrust upon them. They'll patronize their clients without even knowing they're doing it and be bewildered at the uncooperative hostility they get back; they'll see failure after failure of their well-meaning but clueless efforts; they'll burn out and get out, or slip into bitter contempt for the people they're supposed to help and slide by on the bare minimum.

Yeh, what a great plan.

Ken_L said...

"And spare a moment of pity for the likely "smart, dedicated" life coaches"

Yes, they'll be reliably easy fodder for James O'Keefe and similar creeps to "expose" in regular exercises in "investigative journalism" illustrating government incompetence and corruption. But I'm sure business will be queueing up to get contracts to provide the service, and colleges will jump at the chance to develop new life counselling courses to meet the surge in demand.

"trying desperately to help"

Actually I doubt they will. They'll be on incentive-based pay that will have lots of performance metrics, so they will be solely interested in making their numbers look good. After they realise what an idiotic premise their work is based on, they'll become totally cynical about their involuntary clients or customers or whatever they'll be called.

Steve M. said...

This is about giving the something to the MSM so they can say "the thoughtful and serious Paul Ryan" and to allow "moderate" Republican White voters who are uncomfortable with the full-throated hatred of poor people and minorities in the Republican base somewhat more comfortable when voting Republican.

I think that's what Ryan is thinking, but are there any voters like that left in the GOP? In the general electorate, maybe, but I'm not sure about his party. I think they're all haters now.

Yastreblyansky said...

What Ken said, especially about the oddity of Republicans getting so enthusiastic about the construction of a nanny state--only for *some* people, of course. Then again it's at state level, which always makes more sense to them, because state governments are so much closer to ALEC oops I mean closer to the people.

It's also worth noting that these life plans aren't going to help anybody get out and be a risk-taking, job-creating entrepreneur. They won't be allowed to take any risks at all. That's only for *some* people too.

Yastreblyansky said...

Via Zandar, a deadly assessment of the plan from Mother Jones . It turns out to be even more implausible than it sounds.

ladyblug said...

Paul "Ly'n Ry'n" is the biggest charlatan in politics. I live 10 miles from his district, and have seen his compassionate conservatism close up and personal~ a charlatan through and through!

Victor said...

Ryan should live a year on welfare and SNAP - and no cheating, because no rich lobbyists take me out for lunch or dinner!

I have to jump through hoops 4 or 5 times a year to collect less than $400 a month in "temporary assistance" - and my Mom and I get $15 a month in SNAP benefits.

WOW! $15 bucks!!!

I've been poked and prodded, and sent to doctors for medical evaluations.
I have reams of paperwork I have to fill out 4 or 5 times a year.
I have to drive every time, and pay for parking when I go to the Social Services office for my interrogations.

Ryan doesn't know how the present system works, so how the fuck would that clueless sociopath know how to design a better one?

Fuck that condescending SOB!
I wouldn't piss on that motherfucker if he was on fire.